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We humans are born, grow, and die amidst countless conflicts that continually force us to question and make compromises. But I’m not just talking about conflicts with other people, of which there are plenty, but the internal conflicts we grapple with as we strive to understand who we are and what we want.
In Episode 13: The Experience of Reality, I talked about neuroscience research indicating that consciousness isn’t singular, monolithic, and objective. Instead, within each of us are several expressions of consciousness that together form what we perceive as the individual self.
These facets of our consciousness perceive and understand the world in different ways. For our primitive mind, the world is a dangerous environment where we’re either hunters or prey. Our mammalian mind tells us we’re social animals needing to nurture our offspring and live in society. Moreover, the part of our consciousness residing in the neocortex perceives a temporal reality that other brain parts can’t conceive, prompting us to think in terms of prediction and planning.
We perceive all this as different perspectives of the same reality, but from a neurological standpoint, they’re literally distinct conscious entities sharing resources. And it’s not just three; there are a vast number of “people” each of us represents and supports within ourselves, either temporarily or permanently.
In that episode, I also discussed how the movie “Inside Out” cleverly uses engaging characters to depict the workings of an 11-year-old girl’s mind, in a way closely mirroring current understanding of brain function. The film portrays Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear as quasi-independent entities controlling Riley’s mind, each stepping in when most needed according to circumstances.
However, if you’ve seen the film, you might have noticed that none of Riley’s mind characters embody purely the emotion they represent. We see Joy being sad or scared, Sadness smiling with a hint of joy, and Disgust annoyed with others. To make the characters more engaging, they were imbued with emotional nuances. It would have been off-putting had they been 100% joy, sadness, or disgust.
The point is, the multiple consciousnesses forming our mind more closely resemble the characters in “Inside Out” as they were portrayed, rather than if they had represented one single emotion. Each of these consciousnesses, or “personas” as Carl Jung termed them, is a part of us, utilizing our body, our senses, and the three layers forming our brain. Thus, each persona within our mind has its instinctual, social, autonomous, and transcendent aspects. This means each persona has its own goals, fears, personality traits, and worldview. As we’ll see later, it is from these characteristics that the conflicts discussed in this episode arise.
Let’s now look at the types of “people” living within you:
First, there are the instinctual forces discussed in Episode 15: Angels and Demons. These entities, regarded by some religions as demons and by our Native American ancestors as internal animals to know and tame, are meant to submit to the will of our Being, not the other way around.
Our instincts originate from the innermost parts of the brain and are primitive, wild, relentless. Their primary goal is to ensure our survival by pressuring us to satisfy our basic needs: food, hierarchy, territoriality, safety. Normally, these instincts don’t take on persona characteristics but are activated when our life is threatened or when a fundamental need has been neglected. However, on some occasions, these instincts find an opportunity to seize a part of our consciousness.
This happens when negative circumstances or a challenging experience, often during childhood, create the perception that we need the constant protection of one of these instincts. For example, an abused child growing up in constant fear of attack might find aggression a way to prevent future abuse. A person who lacked affection, validation, or approval during childhood might develop an attachment to the validation and connection received through sex, and so on.
In the above examples, the instinctual force is present or invoked so frequently that it constructs its own personality: attitudes, habits, and a worldview that bear no relation to the initial danger or absence it intended to protect against, but that instead have one sole aim—to ensure its continued existence, to protect itself from disappearing. This would happen instantly if the inhabiting Being realized it no longer needed that persona and simply dissolved it.
But let’s take this one step at a time. I mentioned these instinctual personas arise from a negative event, but I’m not referring only to violent traumas. The truth is, we all have at least one or more of these personas living within us. What might seem insignificant or amusing to us as adults can be traumatic to a child’s mind. If you think about your own childhood, you’ll likely recall events no one knew would mark you for life, but which you still remember and which shaped some part of your personality, or rather, your personalities.
In any case, there are times when we feel vulnerable in some aspect of our lives and feel the need for something to hold onto. That’s when those protective and survival instincts appear in their sensitive form as impulses and fears. It soon becomes evident that in a situation prolonged over time, these instincts are not useful, and they withdraw. But remember, we need to hold onto something, so we don’t let go of the instinct that made us feel good, even if just for brief moments.
Perhaps we cling to a victimhood sentiment that brings us temporary masochistic pleasure, or to overeating, or isolation, or aggression, or sex. Whatever helps us forget our vulnerability, we want it to stay, so the instinct returns, and although it knows it can’t help us, it offers us a lie: that as long as it’s in charge, it will protect us and nothing bad will happen.
From that point, we could say a new persona has been born, one that frequently takes control of our lives. In some cases, as with the most severe addictions, it may even take total control. This persona, or demon as some would call it, knows its existence is illusory, based on a lie. Therefore, its primary reason for existing becomes ensuring its own existence.
Let’s now look at another type of “people” living within us—the roles we play throughout our lives. These are also referred to as masks because, unlike instincts, we can usually choose which role to play, or at least are somewhat aware that we’re playing it. Hence, it’s like we’re removing one mask and putting on another.
Roles can be grouped into individual, social, and functional, and their origin can be genetic, imitation, or learned.
The first role humans identify with is that of a child. The baby doesn’t know what to call it, but knows it depends on another being for survival, so it learns to behave and view the world based on its relationship with its mother and later its parents. Then the child learns it’s also a sibling and creates behaviors and a worldview used when interacting with its brother or sister. Later, it also discovers it has a gender identity—female, male, or diverse—and learns to behave accordingly, following the social norms of its environment and the example set by the adults around it.
These are genetically originated individual roles. As a human grows, they begin to acquire social roles such as student, friend, enemy, citizen, spouse, political party member, fan of a music group, sports or hobby enthusiast, etc. These are social roles learned or imitated.
Finally, we have functional roles, which we choose, learn, and cultivate as part of our interaction with society and the consolidation of our life purpose. This category includes professional roles—teacher, engineer, electrician, artist; service roles—confidant, helper, advisor, protector, pioneer, etc.; and hierarchical roles—boss-employee, teacher-student, and social positions.
Looking at this list, you might have thought about which of these roles you’ve played, which are most important in your life, and which you’d like to play.
What’s relevant is understanding that none of these roles is who you are, yet your personality is shaped by the independent personalities of the roles you’ve embodied in your life. Unlike the personas formed by your instincts, these personas are usually accepted or voluntarily chosen by you and serve a useful purpose in your life.
The exception would be when society has assigned you a role that doesn’t align with your Being, and you’ve had to play it out of obligation. This is the case for people whose gender identity differs from what usually corresponds with their biological sex. Either way, you have the ability to put on and take off these masks, and quite naturally, you can portray another persona from your repertoire without even realizing you’re doing it. For this reason, we can refer to these personas as “characters.”
Much like an actor who’s created or studied a role can adapt the personality, characteristics, and actions of a fictional character when stepping onto the stage, we all play our characters depending on the context we find ourselves in.
You may have noticed you’re one person at work and another entirely when you’re with your partner or siblings. Your expression, vocabulary, attitudes, and even your voice tone change. This is because each mask has its colors and shapes according to the context. Even when we’re alone, we adopt characters reserved for times when no one else is around. Only you know those things you only do when no one else is around…
Characters, as mentioned earlier, are useful in our lives, but like the instinctual forces, if we forget these personas are not our essence and cling to them believing our happiness or peace depends on their existence, then the characters will also forget their purpose and dedicate themselves to ensuring their own survival.
An example of this is what happens when someone finds great satisfaction in their job. They focus on their professional goals, and over time achieve a position of authority in the company, perhaps becoming a manager. Suddenly, you might know someone like this—they’re always the first to arrive and last to leave the office, work on weekends, and maybe have a complicated relationship with their family.
One day, the company has to cut staff, and despite feeling appreciated and valued, this manager is abruptly fired. Their world ends because if they’re no longer a manager, who are they? They soon realize they have no friends, their family despises them, and they don’t even have a hobby to occupy themselves with.
It’s also the case for the woman who devotes her life to being “the wife of” or “the girlfriend of”, living in function of her partner, distancing herself from her family, friends, personal goals, and dedicating herself exclusively to making her partner “happy”. This woman spends many of her best years being ignored and put in second place, even by herself. Suddenly, she finds herself in her 40s, without professional training or work experience, no friends, no life of her own, having to fend for herself now that she’s no longer someone’s wife but just someone’s mom, someone’s grandma, and then just a memory.
Masks in Conflict
What we’ve just looked at is the theater of the mind, where each of us is a stage and all the characters and masks we carry within are the actors depicting the drama of the human experience. Each character is a part of what we are, but at the same time, none is truly the essence of our being.
Worse, each character enacts its own play, with its own script and its own concept of how the show should end. The director, who would be our inner Being, is usually asleep in the theater seats, and the guests at the performance, who are our relatives, friends, and acquaintances, only get to know a part of us depending on which mask we put on when interacting with them.
In this confusion of masks and scripts we enact, the objectives, ideals, and worldviews of each character come into conflict, creating what is known as cognitive dissonance. This is what happens when someone, for example, attends church, reads the Bible, and nods in agreement when the minister says we should act mercifully, love even our enemies, and act as Jesus Christ would. Then they go home, turn on the news, and start yelling that thieves should be killed, that these rats won’t learn unless they’re shot…
This is why there are always so many needy people at the doors of churches and in their surroundings. They take advantage of the fact that the faithful come out with their pious masks still on and are more prone to giving generous alms. On the other hand, you won’t find beggars asking for alms at the exit of ATMs. People leave the bank with the mask of frugal individuals after seeing the meager balance of their savings account.
This is also why we sabotage ourselves: Someone, for example, decides to finally finish the degree they started studying seven years ago, buys their books, pays tuition, makes a study schedule with colorful markers and glitter, and sticks it above the desk. Everything works perfectly until the third class. Then the party animal persona revolts, returning to drinking, partying, and late nights as usual, promising the studious self that next week they’ll get serious about studying again.
Waking up the play’s director
And here comes the final reflection of this episode: Do we need to abandon the roles and masks, deny our instincts? Or maybe try to ensure each role we play has the same objectives, so there’s no conflict?
It’s not even worth considering this possibility because neither of the two options is feasible. Gnostics and other esoteric schools talk about annihilating the egos, which is the word they use to refer to characters and roles. But the reality is that no esoteric teacher I’ve known has been able to demonstrate in their life experience an absence of the contradictions and cognitive dissonances that manifest when two personalities come into conflict.
Even a teacher whom I personally admire many of his teachings, Osho, showed contradictions in his life between his teachings of peace, freedom, humility, and truth, and the positions he took or failed to take in his path as leader of the Rajneeshpuram community in the United States. If you know about Osho and are interested in this story, I recommend the Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country.”
Contradictions will always arise because in the human experience, each role we play serves a different objective, and many of these objectives are exclusive or at least difficult to reconcile. But this doesn’t mean we can’t value the contribution each of our masks can bring to our lives.
In all the examples I’ve given of conflicting masks and masks that conflict with each other, there are valuable things to rescue. The company manager is probably very efficient and organized. What if they also use that talent to organize their life and relationships in an efficient and healthy way?
The wife of someone is surely diligent, affectionate, and dedicated. Perhaps she can use these virtues with herself, be affectionate towards herself, apply the same dedication she uses for her partner to other personal relationships and her own life project.
The student should also be equally dedicated to their studies, but learning from their party animal self to have fun, create strong social relationships, and dedicate time to leisure will be very beneficial for their professional career.
So, what’s the secret to achieving this balance? Well, we have to wake up the director of the play, the one sleeping among the audience while their characters pull each other’s hair and kick each other on stage. That director is your inner self, your inner divinity.
That being is pure consciousness. It doesn’t desire anything, it doesn’t seek anything, it’s presence here and now. Its purpose is to Be, its way of reaching that end is by being. Its power lies in existence. Unlike all the characters created around it, the Being is the only one that truly exists, that cannot be destroyed. Its function is to be lord and master, lady and mistress who controls and illuminates our life.
The best part is it doesn’t need to learn anything, that’s what its creations are for. The Being only needs to be present, be in charge. When the Being has taken command, then one of its greatest virtues appears, which is Coherence.
Coherence is not the absence of contradictions but the presence of a purpose. It’s like the threads of a fabric, it’s not that they all have to be the same color, that there’s no contrast. It’s that those colors and contrasts form a pattern, a design. Similarly, the Being ensures each of the masks we wear every day serves the higher purpose of our Consciousness.
Without the light of the Being, our personalities simply impose their individual objectives and we carry them out even if they conflict and sabotage our purposes. When the Being is awake, the characters consult the director before executing any action. If that action serves the higher purpose of the Being, then it’s allowed to act.
And you know how you can wake up your Being? You just have to follow the same path I shared in the episode The Secret To Ending Suffering: observing moment to moment, self-observing, staying present in the here and now.
You’ll hardly find other instructions in my talks. It’s what I’ve tested for myself and has helped me heal many pains and aspects of life. Yagé is an excellent tool to facilitate this process, as is meditation, but the secret is one: Presence in the here and now.